Walking through the gates of Downing Street is a bizarre experience. Before you get there it’s all hustle and bustle, but then once through it’s an old-fashioned London street that seems bizarre as there’s no traffic or people.
Yesterday afternoon, MSE Wendy and I went to meet two of the PM’s special advisors to chat about the state of play on bank charges and credit issues (see No. 10 to stop banks dipping into account & Gordon Brown on Bank Charges MSE News stories).
Yet I’ll leave those issues for elsewhere on the site; as it was my first trip, and I suspect many are intrigued by how it works, I thought I’d put down some notes to try and paint the picture as best I can while I still remember.
How do you get in?
We reached the Downing Street gates, went up to the policeman & told him we were on the list. He checked, looked at our ID and then we were in. Next step was the police security booths and metal detector to check our bags.
Once through, it’s a walk across the empty street to the doors of Number 10. The ubiquitous policeman is waiting outside and you’re not quite sure what to do.
He said ‘knock the knocker’ and Wendy – looking a bit like a kid who’d just been given sweeties – took hold of the big brass handle and rapped it.
Before she was done knocking the door swung open; it seems there’s a man stationed right behind it ready to let you in.
Walking into Number 10.
There’s a small reception room at the front. Immediately we were asked if we had mobiles or Blackberrys on us, and as we did, we we were asked to leave them – turned off – in a stack of pigeon hole type boxes on the left.
Each small box has a numbered ticket which you take with you so you can grab it when you come back – though no one’s checking.
Then it was onto a large red sofa, until someone came to show us to the meeting room.
As we were being shown through, I think I looked up and counted five stories above. We walked for a minute or so, including up the famous staircase flanked with pictures of former Prime Ministers.
Most of the recent ones are done in vertical columns of two – the only single one is Tony Blair’s at the end. So it seems the occupant after Gordon Brown will need to have the photos rearranged in columns of three to accommodate them all in future.
What a meeting room!
Being shown into the meeting room was a bit of a surprise. I was expecting a small room with a desk to sit across – absolutely not!
It was a huge ornate room, with two antique-looking green, possibly satin covered (not my forte) sofas in the centre, a coffee table between them, and vast empty space all around.
On the coffee table was a pot of tea, a pot of coffee and a mixed plate of biscuits (I took a Bourbon and one of the ones with the red jam showing in the centre that isn’t a Jammie Dodger).
As soon as the meeting got going both Wendy and I soon forgot about the location and got on with it; quite strangely the auspicious surroundings make you want to focus on the job in hand.
On the way out.
On the way out we were shown through the neighbouring room, which had large windows letting in the light, and a series of four or five tables with more antique type chairs around them.
It was then explained this is the main meeting room where the cabinet meets – though the long table was missing.
If you’ve ever taken the summer tourist tour of Buckingham Palace you’ll have a good idea of what these rooms are like. They’re very similar in feel to the rooms that face the gardens there – though quite a bit less ornate and no gold leaf.
After that it was downstairs to pick up our mobiles and out the door.
When I was there the man at the door said, “I hope you’re on a good tariff” then the comment of the day “if you’re here to save us cash we really must be in trouble!”
Now I had wanted to pretend to be all cool and walk out, but Wendy rightly suggested we should each have our pics taken outside the door – after all everyone else does it – so dutifully I’ve plopped mine below.